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State Snuffs Pot For Medicinal Use

Wed., Nov. 5, 1997

Marijuana initiative

Voters on Tuesday defeated a proposal that would have made Washington the third state in a year to reject federal drug policy and approve the medical use of marijuana.

Opponents, led by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen and King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, saw it as a giant step toward drug legalization, noting that the initiative also covered heroin and LSD and was funded by three out-of-state millionaires.

Owen said the initiative’s broad focus frightened voters, adding that the outcome is “a tremendous message that the people of Washington are not going to be manipulated by out-of-state money and that people care about the danger of desensitizing people to the dangers of drugs.”

The measure’s sponsor, Dr. Rob Killian of Tacoma, said something good came out of the debate. “I think we’ve changed the discussion in Washington state, and I think that was part of my motivation,” Killian said.

Indeed, polls showed strong public support for allowing the seriously ill to use marijuana - but not other drugs like heroin.

Had it been approved, the measure faced an uncertain future anyway.

The federal government prohibits any use of marijuana, medicinal or otherwise. The initiative would have legalized possession by the ill but didn’t create a lawful way for them to obtain the drug.

Initiative 685 was based on an Arizona referendum that was approved in 1996, only to be blocked later by legislators. Californians also approved medicinal use of marijuana last year.

The Washington state measure would have legalized possession of marijuana, heroin, LSD and other “schedule I” drugs by people who are seriously ill, with two conditions: a written recommendation from two physicians, and the doctors would have to cite scientific support.

The initiative also would have altered state sentencing policies to require treatment rather than prison for people convicted of non-violent drug crimes. An estimated 300 inmates serving time for drug possession could have been released under this provision.

The initiative was opposed by political leaders, police, prosecutors, the Washington State Medical Association and such national personalities as millionaire publisher Steve Forbes.

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